Does Uploading Count Towards My Data Cap?

If you’re new to the whole “data cap” life—or are just trying to get a better idea of how to tame your data usage—then there’s something you should know: it isn’t just about downloading.

Yes, uploads count towards your data cap for almost all internet providers, both mobile and home. So, not only do you have to take into consideration how much you download, but also how much you upload, which for many user can be much harder to mentally parse.

Where Uploads Can Be a Problem

When most people think about how much data they use in a month, uploads probably don’t play much into the equation. The thought process is generally something along the lines of “okay, so how much Netflix do I watch…?” and that’s about it.

A look at my ISPs’ data usage chart. Note the distinction between uploads/downloads.

The truth is, depending your lifestyle and particular setup, uploads can really take a chunk out of your data cap. For example, let’s say you just started backing up your computer with a cloud service like Backblaze. (Good for you!) You’ll have to go through a fairly large initial backup, which can be absolutely devastating to your data usage that month. Pair that with the normal lifestyle streaming like Netflix and YouTube, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Backups aren’t  the only thing that can make a dent in your data cap. Cloud services like Google Drive and Dropbox are in constant sync—which means uploading and download—and can really chew through some data in situations where you have multiple PCs and/or shared folders.

For example, let’s say you automatically sync all images to Google Drive from your phone or digital camera. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll say every image is 8 MB, and you have 100 to sync at one time. You just uploaded 800 MB of images, which isn’t really that much for one upload. But what happens if you take a lot of pictures and do this once a week? That’s ~3 GB a month. That’s not bad if you’re doing it on Wi-Fi (which should be the default setting), but if you’re uploading those photos while out and about, it can chew through your monthly data cap quickly.

Furthermore, if you have multiple computers connected to this shared folder, then all those computers will also download these images. So you have 3 GB a month in uploads, but if there’s a computer at home that also download those images, then that’s another 3 GB of downloads. You see how these things can get out of hand eventually.

How to Take Control of Your Uploads

There are, of course, a few things you can do to keep your uploads in check. Here’s a quick list of ideas to get you started.

  • Control Your Backups and Cloud Storage Accounts:  We are all about backups—especially to the cloud!—but if you’re on a cap then you’ll need to be smart about it.
  • Only back up what you need to. Don’t be a digital hoarder—only backup the stuff you can’t live without.
  • Plan ahead if you’re going to change backup services. Switching to a new backup service will take up a huge amount of bandwidth, so plan accordingly. Maybe set the initial upload for a week when you’re on vacation.
  • If your ISP offers off-peak hours, use it to your advantage. Some ISPs will offer off-peak times when your usage doesn’t count against your data cap. Schedule your backups for these hours, which generally fall in the middle of the night.
  • Consider Your Home Security Setup. Security cameras can use a ton of upload data. Use it wisely—only record when you’re not home and limit your streaming quality, for example.

This is by no means a be-all, end-all list of keeping your uploads in check, because every situation is going to be different. For example, you may not have a security camera, but perhaps you live and die by your local music collection and want to keep it backed up. That’s going to use a lot of upload data.

The point here is to think about your upload habits—especially if they’re more passive (like a backup system). Those are the things that will creep up on you.

Cameron Summerson is a die-hard Android fan, Chicago Bulls fanatic, metalhead, and cyclist. When he's not pounding keys here at HTG, you can find him spending time with his wife and kids, spinning legs on the bike, chugging away on the 6-string, or being disappointed in the Bulls.

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